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Study Notes

Failure to Function Adequately

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

This definition states that abnormal behaviour is when an individual is not able to cope with everyday life. It acknowledges that people may act differently but if they have a basic inability to manage in everyday life their behaviour is abnormal.

Ability to function or cope has been defined by Rosenhan and Seligman into seven sections; unpredictability, maladaptive behaviour, personal distress, irrationality, observer discomfort, violation of moral standards and unconventionality.

The Global Assessment of Functioning Scale ( GAF) is a method of measuring how well individuals function in everyday life and it considers Rosenhan and Seligman’s sections plus occupational functioning.

Strengths of the definition

Consideration of how the individual feels: This definition is focused on the individual and how they are managing in everyday life from their perspective, so if someone feels as though they are struggling they will be deemed abnormal and get help.

Measurable: The GAF (see above) is a scale and allows for the extent of the failure to function to be measured. This means that the decision of whether a behaviour is abnormal or not can be made in a relatively objective way.

Behaviour is observable: Failure to function adequately can be seen by others around the individual because they may not get out of bed on a morning, or be able to hold a job down. This means that problems can be picked up by others and if the individual is incapable of making a decision or helping themselves others can intervene.

Weaknesses of the definition

Too much focus on the individual: It is argued that abnormal behaviours may not be a problem for the individual, but may be for others around them. For example, someone may be abnormally aggressive and not be worried by it, but their family and friends may feel it is excessive.

Abnormality does not always stop the person functioning: The focus on how someone is coping of this definition may mean that some abnormal behaviour is missed. People may appear fine to others as they fit into society and have jobs and homes, but they may have distorted thinking which is causing them inner distress that they hide.

Everyday life varies: The ability to cope with everyday life depends on what is seen as normal everyday life. This varies within and across cultures. Some body clocks mean that individuals do not rise until midday but they function well at other times. Culturally it is not unusual to have siestas, or move home regularly which may be seen as abnormal. This means that the definition is not clear.

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